Lawyer pushed client to plead guilty

Rosie Mullaley
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Conviction overturned

Averill Baker

A man found guilty of breaking into a building supplies store will get a new trial because his lawyer, Averill Baker, pressured him into pleading guilty.

That was the decision handed down recently by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in the case of Christopher Wade Sutton.

The three-member panel ruled this week to have Sutton’s conviction on the break-and-enter charge overturned and his sentence reduced by more than half.

Sutton was originally given a 30-month jail term, but the appeals board voted to have that decreased to 14 months.

The decision was the result of an appeal filed by Sutton, who asked that his guilty plea on the break-and-enter charge be withdrawn.

He said the plea was involuntary and that he had been pressed to do it by his lawyer, Baker.

Sutton said Baker misled him into believing that if he pleaded guilty, he would likely avoid jail time.

Instead, he ended up with a federal prison term.

“I never admitted this offence to Ms. Baker. In fact, I denied it,” Sutton wrote in his appeal.

“I never asked her to negotiate a plea agreement concerning this and the other outstanding charges against me.

“I only pleaded guilty to the break and entry because she said that I would receive a conditional sentence for this and the other charges and that a trial for the break-and-enter (charge) would be postponed to the new year while I stayed on remand.”

In the spring of 2011, Sutton had 35 charges pending against him, including the break-in that reportedly happened May 18, 2010, at Greenwood Building Supplies store in Lethbridge, Bonavista Bay.

Other charges included theft, assault, mischief and breaches of court orders.

In August 2010, Sutton through Baker, pleaded guilty to nine of the charges. The Crown withdrew 26 others.

At the sentencing hearing, Baker did not dispute the facts regarding the Greenwood break-in when read in court by the Crown prosecutor.

Baker asked the judge to consider a sentence of time served or a conditional sentence. The Crown sought a prison term of four years.

The judge gave Sutton a 30-month jail term. With straight-time credit for the time he had already served in custody, it left two years and 12 days on the term.

Sutton’s appeal was argued last month by legal aid counsel Derek Hogan. Baker did not show.

Sutton had noted many problems with Baker, which he said led to the guilty plea.

He said he often had difficulty reaching her “because she was distracted by her personal problems.”

When he finally did reach her, he said Baker told him, “Your best bet is to take the deal.”

He said when she told him the Crown was seeking a four-year sentence, she said, “I can work wonders with Judge (Patrick) Kennedy. You’re lucky you don’t have Judge (Harold) Porter.”

Sutton said Baker told him, “I can get you time served and a conditional sentence. … Let’s plead guilty and go for house arrest and get this over with.”

In sentencing, Sutton said he was confused as to just what charges he was pleading guilty to, and which ones were being withdrawn.

“However, I said nothing in court because I was still convinced that I would receive house arrest,” Sutton said.

In rendering their decision, members of the appeals panel —  Justice Malcolm Rowe, Justice Gale Welsh and Justice Charles White — said, “This is not a competence of counsel case. Rather, it relates to whether a guilty plea was voluntary.”

They concluded it wasn’t, and that it was a result of Baker’s actions.

“Mr. Sutton was subject to undue pressure to plead guilty to the Greenwood break and enter and, thus, his plea was not voluntary,” the panel’s written decision states.

“That being so, he is permitted to withdraw it. It follows that the conviction based on the guilty plea cannot stand. The appeal must be allowed and a new trial ordered.”

A date for the new trial has yet to be set.

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Court, Greenwood Building Supplies

Geographic location: Lethbridge

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Recent comments

  • Gerald Wade Smith
    June 16, 2012 - 22:55

    What an idiot.....“However, I said nothing in court because I was still convinced that I would receive house arrest,” Sutton said. He expects House Arrest with a Record like that. How dare he even think he is getting off with this. I hope and I know his new Trial will fetch himself an increase to the original sentence. That would look good on him for LYING about Miss Baker. How many homes and businesses did he disrupt. Miss Baker should have went into the Courts and dispute Sutton's allegations. She screwed up there but Sutton will get more than 30 months next round just for his cockiness. His GRIN is short lived.

  • Jeff
    June 15, 2012 - 14:01

    This is the same idiot that stole a handcuff key and escaped custody. He also stole a pepper spray bottle from the guard. This is a misleading an unfair article to Ms. Baker. Buddy deserves to be locked up and should probably get more time as he obviously hasn't realized yet that what he did was wrong. You're not the victim here Mr. Sutton. Us tax payers and the people who wasted their time reading this article are. Do us a favor and lie in your cell and please shut up.

    • Pffffffft
      June 15, 2012 - 15:46

      Ms. Baker was given the opportunity to address the Court of Appeal, and she declined the invitation. One must infer from that that the affidavit is true, and that she was too pre-occupied with her own personal issues to properly defend her client. Telling someone to plead guilty to something he denies committing is grossly unethical on her part.

    • Jeff
      June 17, 2012 - 01:14

      He didn't deny doing it. Rather he was ticked off he didn't get the sentence his lawyer said he would. Maybe she was tricking him in to making a dumb choice because she knew he belongs in a cage. I know nothing of the circumstances, but all I was saying was this guy is a waste and that Ms. Baker's credibility as an educated person should not be damaged because of some guys opinion of what he got for prison time. He's a loser and as such needs to shut up.

    • Jeff
      June 17, 2012 - 01:18

      Why would you settle for house arrest for a crime you didn't commit. He didn't deny it, but in my opinion admitted. Get you head out yer arse

  • Robyn Deni
    June 15, 2012 - 11:28

    This is a highly unbalanced piece of writing. This is poor editing on someone's part at the Telegram! There is not one comment or verification from Avril Baker! Seriously?!!

  • client
    June 15, 2012 - 11:15

    Is Ms Bakers clients that she have now, going to get a fear trial, with those judges.hmmmmm

  • Ronnie W.
    June 15, 2012 - 10:15

    Earlier this year I also had a very brief association with Mrs. Baker. I was also given the "take the deal" story by her. I knew that I did not do the offense so I politely told her NO, she then informed me that would be my best chance. Needless to say I didn't take her advise and she recused herself from my case. I went to court and represented myself and won the case. Although is she a good lawyer, she tends to go for the plea out most of the time.

    • tula
      June 15, 2012 - 11:02

      I however was not as fortunate and was dragged through the system for many years only to tell me at the end of the day that I must take the DEAL

  • Whaddaya At ?
    June 15, 2012 - 09:35

    Holy crap, talk about yer born loser !!!. The guy hires a lawyer to plead his case and his lawyer pressures him into pleading guilty. lol.

  • tula
    June 15, 2012 - 08:13

    I was just wondering if the Law Society will be notified re the actions of this lawyer?

  • TR
    June 15, 2012 - 07:25

    35 charges tells me he is a career criminal. He can't have that many charges and be innocent. Looks like another one making a joke of the system. I guess now we know what Baker thinks of the judges. Good luck on your next case.

  • Wha?
    June 15, 2012 - 06:56

    He had 35 charges pending??? He's scum! Of course he has to blame somebody else, Avril Baker will do! He needs 34 more people to blame for the other charges. Who cares if he got Federal time? He should get it!

  • ohmygawd
    June 15, 2012 - 06:42

    if 26 charges were withdrawn as part of a plea deal are those charges back on the table

  • Townie
    June 15, 2012 - 06:22

    I had dealings with Ms. Baker some years ago. She's a great lawyer if you can no other lawyer in the land to represent you.

    • Kevin Power
      June 15, 2012 - 08:00

      This guy is a joke and a drain on the legal system and the tax payers by having legal aid represent him. Time for him to grow up and accept responsibility for his crimes.

    • Gerald Smith
      June 16, 2012 - 22:58

      A new trial will bring all the other charges back into play.